In order to receive a tag for most big game animals in Arizona you have to go through a draw process and this year I was not very successful. During the first draw we put in for antelope and elk. I was not drawn! The second draw was for deer and bighorn sheep. Again, I drew no tags! Some of the hunts that I applied for had a very high probability of drawing. Nothing! Nada! You can only imagine the heartache. I am an avid outdoorsman and will do anything to hunt, fish, and be outdoors as much as possible. I may be able to pull something together for a deer hunt later this year with my bow but my main focus lately has been an over the counter bear tag which I got for my birthday in January. Scouting for bears has occupied my time during the last month and the bear hunt has not even opened but there is a definite reason behind this madness.
When most people think of Arizona they think of the desert. In fact it is a common misconception that Arizona is nothing but hot desert. In reality though, Arizona is many things other than just desert (I won’t lie; the hot part is definitely still true though). From the snow-covered mountains of the San Francisco Peaks to the red rock riverbeds of Sedona to the beautiful Sonoran desert, Arizona is filled with many divergent territories. This is one of the factors that has had a huge effect on hunting here. Having such diverse land means that animals have many options for food, especially our black bears. In some bear habitat in Arizona the densities of bears is incredibly high. The habitat is good in those areas because there is such a tremendous diversity of food available for bears to eat but very often, not all of the various foods that could be available “make” (environmental conditions keep those potential food sources from producing abundant or any food). Juniper berries, manzanita berries, prickly pear fruit, acorns, and tons of other plants provide a huge potential food supply for bears here in Arizona, but these things don’t make every year. Some years prickly pears are covered in fruit, and some years they have none at all. When fewer food sources are available, sometimes there are more bears killed especially when the sole food source is prickly pear cactus fruit. This is because the bears come from miles to whatever food did make well and attack the hillsides eating whatever food they do have. In the prickly pear flats the bears can be easier to glass.
This all makes it very important to know what food is making in bear habitat, what food is not and the location of the food that is abundant. The bears here reside in the highest elevation points of Arizona and in the lower desert country as well as long as there is food to support them. We have really focused on not only seeing what made in one certain area but in as many as we can find, because of how diverse the habitats are. Scouting is not always spending mornings glassing and looking for the animal, sometimes scouting is simply just learning all you can about the animal and what its habits may possibly be this year. We spend plenty of time trying to find bears and glassing as the sun rises, but we always try to see if the territory could support a bear first. I love to learn as much as I can about the outdoors and this has definitely been a year of learning. I hope that I will get the opportunity to take a bear this year but even if I don’t, I am forever thankful for the information I have gotten to learn and all the cool things I have gotten to see.
We have also been hiking trail cameras into areas to get information about the animals there. Luckily enough for us we have seen many bears on our cameras and hope that they may stick around. We have also been lucky enough to get plenty of pictures up close and personal of a bear trying to destroy our trail cameras. It was hard to not take it personally.
Being a hunter can teach you many things and it tends to teach you to pay attention. When hunting anything you have to be able to pay attention and stay on the lookout for little signs that have to do with the animal you are pursuing and you have to know what they mean. These things are more often than not little things that would not matter to you if you didn’t know the meaning of them. Although plants are a huge part of bear’s diet, they are not the only thing they eat and they are not the only way to know if there are bears in an area. We stay on the lookout for rocks that have been rolled over as bears eat bugs, bear scratches on trees, tracks, scat (I also get the wondrous job of seeing what food had been inside of it), and anything else we have been able to find. We have been lucky enough to see an abundance of some of these things while out on hikes deep in the woods. I am glad to be a person who knows what these things mean and what to do with that information. There are many ways to hunt bears in Arizona including with dogs. I have spent countless days in the Arizona heat chasing bears with our hounds, and I have spent countless mornings glassing as the sun rises because I also love spot and stalk hunting. Despite the different ways to hunt them, they have one thing in common and that is that you have to have some sort of knowledge in the little signs you are seeing. You have to care. You have to be part of something. I like to hunt bears because of this challenge. Hopefully this year I will be able to use this knowledge and have a little bit of luck as well.